Stepping Stones

After my Government job disappeared in the early ’90s, I took an assistant to the director position at a small publishing company. The charismatic Owen Jones was the Director, and he was the darling of what we used to call a Letterhead Board of Directors. Board members were prominent, wealthy, and privileged. Their names and companies were on the company’s letterhead. Little room remained for text, but board members were impressed.

The company was a well-funded vanity press with plans to publish the memoirs of prominent Board members. The first effort was the autobiography of Arthur Siegfried, the Chairman of the Board.

Owen was the sort of boss who kissed up and kicked down. He fawned on the Board of directors but was abusive to his staff. His favorite ploy was to have a staffer in attendance at functions. Periodically he’d gesture for us to approach, ask a question, and then abruptly turn his back on us, resuming his conversation with a more critical individual. It showed how vital Mr. Jones was and how low we were in the order of things.

Staff was definitely to be seen and not heard. It should have come as no surprise that after two years, the company was no closer to publishing the autobiography Journey of a Titan than they had on the day the company opened. Owen was much too busy attending functions with the Board members, shmoozing at Chamber functions, and currying favor at the clubs he had joined. Owen gave little direction to staff.

The project had already gone through three editors and two copy editors. The Journey of a Titan had major rewrites regularly as Arthur buffed his written image. Actual production stalled, but the jacket art and prose were complete down to solicited and paid for blurbs from enthusiastic reviewers.

Owen’s strategy was to get discovered. The Chamber activity, clubs, and charity events were opportunities for him to get observed and offered the next stepping stone on the ascent to corporate heights. In short, he expected to be gone when the house of cards began to topple. Many before him had successfully used the strategy. You look sadly back at the wreck of your first effort, sigh and note that those who came after you were lesser individuals.

Dictators, tyrants, and tools depend upon others to maintain their position. Those who bear this in mind have long careers. Those who forget this soon get overturned. One night, sensing his next step ascending close by, Mr. Jones pulled his favorite ploy on Arthur Siegfried. On Monday, at an introductory meeting, we met Mr. Siefried’s son, our new Executive Director.

I understand that Owen eventually found work in the hospitality industry, but being a night manager at a Holiday Inn Express was a far cry from schmoozing with the elite. As Napoleon said: “Glory is fleeting. But obscurity is forever.” 

3 Replies to “Stepping Stones”

  1. You are correct there are a lot of men out there like this, but only because they are tied into the generations Old Boy networks. I suspect that eventually there will be less differentiation by sex. Lots of people just want to get where they think they are going as fast as possible, and don’t care who get’s in the way.

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